The maitake mushroom has been prized in Asia for thousands of years for its health benefits. The Japanese word "maitake" means "dancing mushroom," a name derived from the reaction of people having found these mushrooms, which were actually worth their weight in silver.
Modern research on the maitake mushroom only began in Japan in the 1980s and has just recently begun to be conducted to the United States. Most research has been done on the extract rather than the fresh mushroom and tests on humans are limited.
Here are six health benefits of maitake mushrooms.
Maitake mushrooms are highly sought after for their anti cancer properties. They are abundant in polysaccharides and polysaccharide-protein complexes that the body uses to fortify the immune system. The mushroom’s beta-glucan content works to promote important immune system functions, effectively activating white blood cells that fight off microorganisms that cause disease, including cancer. Maitake mushrooms enhance the activity of cells, inducing the production of interleukins and other lymphokines that have chemo protective effects, slow tumor growth, and help to inhibit the spread of cancer.
Immune System Support
Maitake mushrooms grow primarily in northeastern Japan and the United States, and are esteemed by traditional Chinese medicine for fighting disease and improving immunity. Regular consumption of maitake enhances the immune system as well as lowers blood pressure. The most effective ingredient in the mushroom is its beta-glucan, a polysaccharide compound that boosts the immune system through the activation of macrophage cells, natural killer cells and T-cells. These cells play an important role in building general immunity and preventing free radicals from harming the body's systems.
Blood Sugar Control
The consumption of maitake mushrooms may regulate blood sugar levels and blood lipid levels. The polysaccharide compounds that promote the strength of the immune system are also effective in helping to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin and lipids. This effect is especially beneficial for people with diabetes or hypoglycemia. People with Type 2 Diabetes may also benefit from maitake mushrooms. Scientists have studied a specific, high-molecular polysaccharide in maitake called the X-fraction. Research results suggest that maitake mushrooms can reduce insulin resistance and increase insulin sensitivity.
Lower Blood Pressure
Research on animals suggests that maitake may help lower blood pressure in people. One study gave hypertensive rats a 5% maitake mushroom powder and observed a reduction in blood pressure. Similar results were seen from another study on rats, in which maitake lowered blood pressure from 200 to 115 mm Hg in just 4 hours. In an unpublished trial on humans, eleven patients with hypertension took 500 mg of maitake mushroom pills twice a day. A mean decrease in diastolic blood pressure of approximately 8 mm Hg and a mean decrease in systolic blood pressure of about 14 mm Hg were reported.
In one study on hyperlipidemic rats, maitake changed lipid metabolism through inhibiting the aggregation of liver lipids and the raising of serum lipids. Similar results were seen in rats fed a high-cholesterol diet. In another study, rats given powdered mushroom preparations saw a drop in both total cholesterol and very low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol.
Maitake mushrooms can promote weight loss and decrease obesity when combined with light exercise. Studies on overweight rats fed maitake powder found that after 18 weeks, they had lost weight compared with controls. They contain no cholesterol, no fats and are very low carbohydrates. Additionally, the high lean protein content of mushrooms helps burn cholesterol in digestion.